World's Greatest City: 50 reasons why Singapore is No. 1

World's Greatest City: 50 reasons why Singapore is No. 1

The little red dot heard round the world proves that size doesn't matter

Editor's Note: Catherine Ling, Michelle Bong, Christa Yeo, Hatta Aziz and CNNGo Singapore City Editor Larry Loh all contributed to this report.

1. Food capital of the world

Singapore = Food. The city-state dominates the 'net with food blogs where hungry netizens compare, dissect, argue and swap foodie fodder, scouring the island for new tastes. And nearly every conceivable victual from every earthly corner has a home here. Fancy authentic Egyptian Baba Ghanoush? Arab Street's got you covered. Crave something Nigerian besides a scam e-mail? Find it on Verdun Road in Little India. If it's edible and fits on a plate, bowl, banana leaf or sheet of paper, we'll wolf it with zeal. But if you truly want to sample Singapore’s food culture, head to any of the hawker centers in the heartlands -- there’s a huge variety of stalls there at dirt-cheap prices.

2. Green thrives in the big gray city

Singapore's a Garden City, literally. Amid the concrete jungle we call home, there's the Botanical Gardens, HortPark, MacRitchie Reservoir, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve -- each claiming myriad varieties of flora and fauna.

But the most common impression left visitors to Singapore concerns the rows of trees that line roads everywhere, from expressways to suburban streets. It's not just a green facade -- Singapore's a champion of environmental initiatives, from the world's largest CNG refueling station to its first Solar Greenlots for electric vehicles.

3. Greatest living politician

No one in Singapore, regardless of political stripe, has anything but a healthy respect -- perhaps even awe -- for Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. He led Singapore to independence in 1965 and served as its first Prime Minister for 31 years, setting the record as the world's longest-serving Prime Minister. He's the architect of Singapore's present prosperity, laying a foundation of nation-building which has taken Singapore from a sleepy little island to one of Asia's most developed states, despite its small population, limited space and lack of natural resources.

4. Dedicated to keeping us alive forever

Singapore has one of the best health care infrastructures in the world, with various dignitaries and royals from the region patronizing local hospitals -- Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe even slipped in quietly for a 'secret cancer check-up' in 2008. The health care provision system is also one of the world's best, so good that some say it beats the proposed ObamaCare model.

5. First and only Night Race in the world

Singapore is the first F1 venue to host a night race on its streets, and will do so for several years to come. The inaugural race in 2008 also earned the city-state an unfortunate distinction for being the one in which Team Renault boss Flavio Briatore ordered Nelson Piquet to crash, giving teammate Fernando Alonso the win. It's now known as the Singapore 'Crashgate' scandal -- which might lend some cred to Singapore's squeaky-clean image.

6. Water technology so good, we drink our own pee

Time magazine called Singapore the global paragon of water conservation. Through sheer effort, and more than a little desperation (Singapore imports less than half the population's water from neighboring Malaysia with agreements set to expire in 2011 and 2061), the island turned to desalination technologies to provide for thirsty citizens. The result is NeWater, which is non-potable wastewater filtered into high-purity H2O that can be used for industrial development and even drinking.

7. Most awesome crustacean dish of all time

The Singapore chili crab is famous. Despite what the Malaysian Tourism Ministry claims, the dish is distinctly Singaporean, as evidenced by the Singapore Chilli Crab Festivals staged all across Europe. Madam Cher Yam Tian created the succulent recipe in 1950 and it's now the unofficial national dish of a food-loving nation, with restaurants and coffee shops serving it by the ton nightly.

8. English that no one else understands

It's the unofficial 'first language' of most Singaporeans and one that would bewilder the remaining English-speaking world. Singlish is the creole of choice for citizens, cobbled together from various influences including Queen's English, Bahasa Melayu, Tamil, dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Bengali, Punjabi and even a smattering of various other European, Indic and Sinitic languages. Word of warning -- if you don't know it, don't try it. It'll make you sound sillier than we already do. Eh, dun pray pray ah …

9. Connected, mobile and most oblivious to the surroundings

Thanks to its minuscule size, Singapore has the infrastructure to support island-wide 3.5G mobile and wireless internet access. According to Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), there are 6.5 million mobile subscribers (as of July 2009), making for a staggering 140-plus-percent mobile phone penetration rate, and over four million in wireless broadband subscriptions. This is why you’ll see Singaporeans with their attentions dedicated to their phones, rather than their environment.

10. Campaign-craziest place on earth

There’s a Singapore-wide campaign for everything -- Be Courteous, Speak English, Speak Mandarin, Stop Dengue, Save Water, Stop Littering, Be Kind, Don't Spit, and Stop At Two are just a warm-up. We'd go on, but that would violate the current Stop Prattling campaign.

11. Natural disaster-free … for the most part

Owing to our geographic location, Singapore is sheltered from most of the natural disasters that afflict neighboring countries and the rest of the world. Still, people get a kick each time a strong wind blows down from the north or our houses rumble from the aftershocks of Indonesian earthquakes.

12. Most crooked-backed kids

Small children toting oversized backpacks crammed with books are common to our neighborhood streets. That would be due to our educational system, with streaming programs that start as early as primary four. This goes all the way up past secondary school, until you are able to choose your preferred subjects.

13. Coolest place to get vertigo

Atop the 226-meter Swissotel the Stamford, Southeast Asia's tallest hotel, New Asia Bar is best for watching tipsy tourists and partygoers try to make sense of its tilted 72nd floor (it slants 20 degrees downwards for maximum eye-in-the-sky effect). And if that's not dizzying enough, clamber up to the top floor helipad for a 360-degree view of the bright lights of Singapore. On a clear night you can see as far as Indonesia. Just don't look down. Or fall over.

Swissotel The Stamford Singapore, 2 Stamford Road, Singapore, tel +65 6837 3322. www.equinoxcomplex.com

14. You don’t expect to get mugged or knifed at 3am in our darkest alleys

Singapore has a crime rate so low, ladies stroll without fear in the wee hours of the night. Neil Humphreys, a UK-born columnist who planned to visit for three months and ended up staying for almost 10 years, commented on how safe the island state was in his book, Notes from An Even Smaller Island. And contrary to Western opinion, there's no strong police presence poised to cane anyone for spitting, chewing gum or scratching cars.

15. Craziest adrenaline junkie who won't quit

Khoo Swee Chiow, a.k.a. the first Singaporean to reach Mount Everest (and once more without oxygen), a.k.a. the record holder for the world's longest journey on skates (6088km in 94 days), a.k.a. the man who broke the world record for the longest controlled scuba dive, a.k.a, the cyclist who rode from Singapore to Beijing in 73 days (8066km)… You get the idea. He's off his rocker, but inspirational to anyone with a yen for danger.

16. 'Public housing' aren't dirty words

In many countries, 'public housing' conjures images of poverty, crime and places Rambo wouldn't tread without a Sherman. Not so here. Public housing is actually pretty good, with most of the population living in government-managed apartments -- it's just not cheap. In fact, far from poverty, Singapore has the highest density of millionaires at 8.5 percent of the population.

17. The nanny state's loosening its grip

Filmmaker Martyn See's banned "Singapore Rebel" film, about Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, has been given the green light for public screening. Yes, it's four years since it was banned, and it's been watched by half a million people on YouTube and Google Video since, but it's a vital first step to more liberal arts. Baby steps ...

18. The country's built as if out of Lego blocks

For the world's third most densely populated country, Singapore is stacked neatly by an imaginary obsessive-compulsive Lego master, one who's managed to cram shoulder-to-shoulder buildings, religious institutions, parks, gardens, a water catchment or 33, numerous restaurants, cafes, nightspots, shopping malls and two award-winning zoos into an area just shy of 700 square kilometers.

19. Vampire shopping

Singapore's stretch of Orchard Road malls accommodate the most fickle shoppers, connected as they are by an intricate network of underground passages, tunnels, sheltered walkways, covered escalators and the Mass Rapid Transit train line. Shop from Wisma Atrium on one end to Suntec City on the other without feeling the sun.

20. You can call it whatever you want

Digging into the history books, Sang Nila Utama, the founder of modern Singapore, named the island of Temasek as such when he saw what he thought was a lion, took it as a good omen, and renamed the place 'Singapura,' meaning "Lion city." The English 'Singapore' evolved from the Malay name, hence the moniker 'Lion City' and one half of the iconic Merlion. Zoologists maintain that lions probably never lived there, not even Asiatic breeds, and that the beast seen was more likely a tiger, probably the Malayan Tiger. Funny how the island's eponymous animal never really existed. But, then 'Harimaupura' (Tiger-city) doesn't have quite the same kick.

21. Last bastion of colonialism

Raffles Hotel still plays refuge to the time-displaced, khaki-shorted British jocks of pre-Independence Singapore. It's also home of the original Singapore Sling and one of the best places to have an old-fashioned English tea. Just don't ask about the tale of the tiger under the hotel or you'll get an hour-long history lesson.

1 Beach Road, Singapore, tel +65 6337 1886. www.raffles.com

22. Most educated, comfortable and honest taxi drivers

OK, so our cabbies aren't the most educated, but we do have Dr Cai Mingjie, the "only taxi driver in this world with a PhD from Stanford and a proven track record of scientific accomplishments." But educated or not, like cabbies everywhere, our taxi drivers are full of opinions and political commentary -- just ask what they think of the government and watch their mouths outrace their motors in RPM. Plus, all taxis are meticulously maintained, with twice-daily washes and a rigid fare structure. The rides might cost more than other Southeast Asian countries, but you'll never get cheated or over-charged.

23. The best Airport in the World

It's the pearl of Singapore's eastern end, voted Best Airport by more magazines and organizations than anywhere else. Families plan weekend excursions here, students spend inordinate amounts of time studying and daydreaming within its four terminals, and over 37 million passengers passed through its gates in 2008. There's a great transit hotel in the form of the Hotel Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, an orchid garden complete with a koi pond, free video games and movies 24 hours a day and free wireless internet throughout the airport. Why does anyone ever depart this place?

Singapore Changi Airport, 75 Airport Blvd, Singapore, tel +65 6595 6868. www.changiairport.com

24. World’s youngest iPhone developer

Lim Ding Wen has written an iPhone app called Doodle Kids that allows you to paint on the iPhone using shapes like triangles, circles and squares composed of random colours and sizes. Within a week of Doodle Kids' release through the App Store, it was downloaded more than 1,100 times. Ding Wen's now busy porting his Apple IIGS title Invader Wars to the iPhone. What's the big deal? He turned nine this year.

25. The greatest theme rides this side of the Equator

With the newly opened Universal Studios Singapore offering 24 movie-themed rides and attractions, including a pair of carefully coordinated roller coasters, seven zones (The Lost World and Hollywood Boulevard, for example), dinosaurs, lemurs, ogres, Egyptian mummies and the world's first Transformers Ride, Singapore's monopoly on amusement in the region is secure. Universal Studios has promised that this will be the only park it opens in Southeast Asia for the next 30 years.

26. The most morbidly named island

Our very own pleasure island of Sentosa was once known as Pulau Blakang Mati, which in Malay means "Island (pulau) of Death (mati) from Behind (blakang)."

All of this was swept under the dead grass carpet when the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board launched a campaign to rename the island 'Sentosa,' a Malay word meaning "peace and tranquility." It obviously worked, considering it's visited by some five million peace seekers a year.

Sentosa Island Singapore, tel 1800-SENTOSA (736-8672). www.sentosa.com.sg

27. Nostalgic about Communism

The Museum of Shanghai Toys (MoST) is home to tin toys made in China during the early 1900s. The displays are packed with wind-up walking robots, classic car replicas and ruddy-cheeked dolls, just for starters. And if you’re itching to get your hands on one, the museum store sells the actual tin toys imported from China, along with postcards and retro posters smacking with "messages" from the Cultural Revolution. Mao you're talking! Museum Of Shanghai Toys, 83 Rowell Road, Singapore, tel +65 6294 7747. www.most.com.sg

28. Flimsiest excuse to gather thousands of people and play with lanterns

During Swing KPE! in September, 2008 over 10,000 people took to the KPE Tunnel with lanterns in hand, breaking the record of 2,204 lanterns previously set in Kiel, Germany in November, 2001. Singapore bagged the longest Guinness lantern parade record with an overwhelming 10,568 participants.

29. Every healthy male can shoot a gun

Compulsory conscription in Singapore of all male 18-year-old Singaporean citizens and permanent residents means that every one of them can aim and fire a gun. Whether they'll ever put it to use is another matter altogether, since national service lasts only two years.

30. Tissue Paper Phenomenon

Loiter around any food court or crowded working class eatery during lunchtime, and you'll likely find tissue packs scattered about the tables. But they're not freebies courtesy of the management -- they're how the natives 'chope' (reserve) their seats. It's bizarre, but strangely BYOT does make some sense in a time-saving way. Sort of?

31. TNG-TWSTG, MND-BGLG ACRNMS

There's a whole new subculture of acronyms permeating Singapore, and it's ingrained enough to have spawned a Wikipedia glossary, from AMK to AYE, from CPF to COE. Though the only one you'd likely use is SOS. It makes us ROFLOL.

32. Stretch a dollar till it hollers

Get a decent chunk of ice cream wrapped in soft, fluffy bread along Orchard Road, quaff a nice piping cup of jet-black coffee in any of the numerous 'kopitiams' (coffee shops) or even stay at a spanking new hotel for just one dollar. How's that for recession busting?

33. Perpetuating the stereotype that Asians are bespectacled bookworms

Singapore loves its books -- there are 22 well-stocked public libraries scattered throughout the island, with the monster of all literary stockpiles at the Central Lending Library shelving over 200,000 books for loan, browsing or killing eight hours. If that's not enough, specialized bookstores such as Books Actually, Polymath & Crust, 25 Degrees Celsius and Casual Poet have sprung up for insatiable readers.

Central Lending Library, Level B1 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street, Singapore, tel +65 6332 3255. www.nlb.gov.sg

34. Highest place in the world to watch the wheels go round and round

At 165 meters (the height of a 42-story building and some 30 meters taller than the London Eye), the Singapore Flyer is the biggest observation wheel in the world. It's worth the half-hour ride for its 360-degree view of Singapore, from the Marina Bay to the Singapore River, Raffles Place, Merlion Park, Empress Place and the Padang.

30 Raffles Avenue, #01-07, Singapore, tel +65 6854 5200. www.singaporeflyer.com

35. Gong Li and Jet Li are at home here. You don't think you're better than them, do you?

Two of the biggest Chinese names in Hollywood call Singapore home -- she married Singaporean businessman Ooi Hoe Soeng in 1996 and became a Singaporean citizen in 2008. He followed suit in 2009, choosing Singapore for its exemplary educational system.

36. The Origins of Tech Legends

The Sound Blaster family of sound cards, credited to have brought real audio to the average PC in 1989, was the brainchild of tech poster boy Sim Wong Hoo of Singapore-based Creative Technology. The first Macintosh classic was also said to have been assembled and built in Apple's Ang Mo Kio plant, as was rumored the first iMac, iBook and iPod in its top-secret research facilities here.

37. Magicians meet fruity umbrella drinks -- finally

Bar 84 is famous for its on-site Japanese magician. But be bold -- its regulars have been trying to keep Bar 84 under wraps since it first opened a few years back, and the bouncers at the door can scare you into questioning your suitability for entry. But once inside, you can enjoy the nightly magic show by owner/bartender Hashi-san.

The Gallery Hotel, 1 Nanson Road, Singapore, tel +65 6235 0002. www.galleryhotel.com.sg

38. The coolest pairing of comic book superheroes (or most unfortunate name ever)

Nineteen-year-old Batman Bin Suparman, born in Singapore to Javanese parents, has a lot to live up to if his namesake is any guide. He's even got his own Facebook Fan Club. The wedgies this kid receives must be superhuman.

39. Greatest collection of ‘-opolis'es

Biopolis, Airtropolis, Fusionopolis, Entrepolis -- we can make an ancient Greek society out of anything, like these government names for major institutes, events and agencies. Welcome to Imaginapolis!

40. Iconic buildings inspired by nocturne sex

Beijing has its Bird's Nest Stadium. Taipei has its Bamboo Skyscraper. And Singapore has the Durian Theaters. The waterside Esplanade Theatres on the Bay were designed to express harmony with nature, reflecting the balance of yin and yang. But they've, instead, been compared to the eyes of flies, copulating aardvarks and Chinese dumplings. Locals just call them the "Durians."

The Esplanade Theatres, 1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore, tel +65 68288 377. www.esplanade.com

41. Artery-choking, coma-inducing, prehistoric milk drinks

The Milo Dinosaur has made its way across the Malaysia border and has spawned new offspring in Singapore. The ultra-chocolatey drink, which is basically a cup of Milo topped with an extra spoonful of undissolved Milo powder, has the Milo Godzilla (added ice cream and whipped cream) trailing after, together with siblings "Horlicks Dinosaur" (a variant with the malt drink power) and "Neslo" (combined with Nescafe powdered coffee).

42. Best little alternative culture shop in the heart of town

Straits Records specializes in straight-edge culture, stocking obscure punk music tee-shirts, niche books and titles in various formats from around the world. Vegan owner Ridhwan hosts ad-hoc indie performances, film screenings and art shows in his little store, on rooftops and in basement car parks. Can't this guy do anything mainstream?

766, North Bridge Road, Singapore, tel +65 9769 4837 / 9385 3211. www.myspace.com/straitsrecords
Opens Monday to Friday, 3pm - 11pm, Saturday & Sunday, 12pm to 11pm.

43. Most complex coffee ordering procedure ever

Everyday, in kopitiams (local coffee shops) all over Singapore, coffee stall attendants with bellows for lungs yell out drink orders in the most perplexing code this side of the Causeway. "Kopi-o peng gao jit puay" means one iced thick coffee without milk and less sugar, while "teh-si siew dai sua neng puay" means two cups of tea with condensed milk and less sugar. Don't bother, most Singaporeans just place their drink orders in plain ol' indecipherable Singlish.

44. Hang out with purple-haired artists doodling on walls while blowing smoke rings out of an Egyptian shisha

Haji Lane is Singapore's must-visit street, where streams of curious tourists, design students and wannabe fashionistas gather to hunt for great local finds, designer clothes and accessories. Expect rows of small boutiques packed with vintage dresses, classic bags, shoes and even cameras. Take time to check out the graffiti on the walls -- it's one of the best collections of street art around.

45. Toilets are taken (too) seriously

The Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) wants its public toilets so clean you can eat off the lids. To do that, they comb the island in search of the causes of dirty crappers and spread the Good Word on good toilet etiquette.

46. We keep it Old School

It's Old School by name, old school by design and old school by location. With local artists shacked up in the old retrofitted schoolhouse, art galleries, design studios and agencies, and a cinema that plays regional films, Old School's is a magnet for those with an alternative bent. Hang around in the evening and get to know the local musicians and their followers who flock to the beer and live music at Timbre.

11B Mount Sophia, Singapore, tel +65 6338 7682. www.oldschool.sg

47. We're more than happy to kick the crap out of you (it's for your benefit!)

There's no mystic sensei-student bond, no sagely David Carradine figure offering cryptic advice, no special effects to fake the blood and bruises, no "Eye of the Tiger" soundtrack in the background. What there is at Evolve Mixed Martial Arts, however, is full-on, knuckle-cracking, blood-and-sweat contact sport, with hellish routines that’ll leave you feeling like a puddle of pâté.

#02-22 POMO Mall, 1 Selegie Road, Singapore, tel +65 6337 0082. evolve-mma.com
Open Monday-Friday 7:30am-10pm, Saturday & Sunday 11am-6pm

48. Partyopolis

Spread over a sprawling 70,000-square-foot space, St James Power Station was Singapore’s first coal-fired power station, but now is nine separate clubs housed under one red-bricked roof. Do a salsa in Movida, hop over to Powerhouse for house beats, goof off to campy top-40s in the Boiler Room, try yum seng glasses of Martell in Dragonfly, or catch local bands such as EIC at Bar None.

3 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore, tel +65 6270 7676. www.stjamespowerstation.com
Opens Sunday to Thursday 8pm-3am, Friday & Saturday 8pm-4am for most outlets

49. Everyone's apparently related

It's strangely comforting when everyone (and we mean everyone) is accorded a familial term, including the Ice Cream Uncle on Orchard Road, or that Toilet Auntie at Far East Plaza. If your taxi driver's younger than you, then it's 'brudder' or 'sistah', or just 'boss,' if you want to score some brownie points.

50. Cutest appellation for a country

The Lion City. The Garden City. The Asian Tiger. The 'Fine' City. All venerable nicknames, but the perennial favorite has to be the Little Red Dot. We're so small and unnoticeable on the world map, some dusty cartographer with Harry Potter specs had to use a red dot to denote our location. But notice us the world did, with accolades such as the 'easiest place for business,' the 'most livable city in Asia' and the 'best city in the world to live in for Asia expatriates.' We are Singapore, hear us roar.

What have we missed or are we on the money? Tell us what you think makes Singapore the greatest city on this big planet of ours.

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